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Given the choice of what to watch, I will almost always opt for a documentary.  While watching this particular one, I became captivated…by the family, by the story, by the blemished humanity, by the unconditional love, by the heart.  This story consists of countless layers of love, of dissection, of self analysis, of emotional maturity, of an understanding that one will never fully understand the boundless complexities that love unleashes on humanity.  And yet at the very core of the documentary lies an intelligent attempt to understand what we know we never will.  Watching or reading such stories leaves me hopelessly and passionately in love with the human heart (and all of its infinite capabilities) in a world that so often does the opposite.

Stories We Tell is such an inspiration to the heart.  To love without end.  To overcome without bitterness.  To ceaselessly grow, to endure, and to transcend death.  And to constantly self analyze in an attempt to better understand the heart’s untapped potential.  This film was just that…an attempt that left me in tears, in thought…in love.

The entire documentary is available here:

Stories We Tell

 

~ Chick Hughes

 

It’s been just over a month since the day my sister passed away…August 28th.  “Time of death… 6:37.”  The doctor’s face as she announced this single solitary moment in time will be burned into my memory for each and every future moment hereafter.  Before losing her, I was rarely at a loss for words, ever ready with sarcastic commentary and not easily shaken.  Since that day, however, I’ve tried to write.  Many times.  But each attempt left me overwhelmed with emotion and fumbling for literary dignity … seemingly bound by some invisible force that mocked every word, every thought as undeserving and insignificant.  I could barely think, let alone write.  Perhaps avoiding a mental confrontation with her death.  Perhaps existing in an emotional tailspin void of inspiration.  Perhaps paralyzed by this all-encompassing monster called grief, with which I’m becoming far too familiar.  Whatever the binding excuses were, they now take their rightful and inferior place behind my infinitely stubborn need for analytical dissection.

And dissect, I have.  Having tirelessly studied and analyzed the cutting edge medical treatments she endured and why they couldn’t save her, the agonizing days leading up to her death, how she may or may not have felt, what she may or may not have been thinking, what she may or may not have been aware of, and the excruciatingly final moment in which she slipped away…I am completely lost trying to comprehend an incomprehensible world without her in it.  A world without her won’t-back-down bulldog in-your-face protection of those she loved, a world without her impossibly stubborn know-it-all attitude, a world without the sister I’ve known, loved, hated, fought with, cried with, and turned to my entire life.  A world with no stubborn baby sister with whom to butt heads.

A stubborn streak was one of the few things I had in common with her.  Aside from that, we were different in every way, shape, and form.  And regarding areas we may not have been so different, we were both too damn stubborn to fess up to.

As children, we learned, we played, we experienced, we dealt with life together.  Side by side. Good times and bad.  Triumphs and failures.  Birthdays and fall-outs.  Love and hate.  Protection and rivalry.  Stories and secrets.  These are the things that define sisterhood.  I knew her inside and out, as she did me.  As adults, we just never got along. And if, in some rare weak moment, we found ourselves succumbing to the evils of sisterly amiability, we were quick to rectify it.  But, family is family.  And as two sisters in an incredibly small family circle, she was my constant…and I hers.

So, whether we saw eye to eye or not, whether we laughed together or declared war on the other, whether we stuck together or stuck it to each other, whether we liked it or not…we were a team in this world.

I only wish I’d known that.  Death has this backhanded way of teaching its spectators life lessons while simultaneously revoking any opportunity to act on their newfound knowledge.

After fighting a losing health battle for most of a year, she was, at last, able to receive a surgery that we hoped would change her life.  The adage “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.   Her surgery proved unsuccessful and resulted in two subsequent surgeries.  Each brought with it more and more challenges for her to overcome as she slowly deteriorated before our eyes.  After the 3rd surgery, she could no longer go on without life support.  Two weeks on the ventilator were met with little success as her lungs progressively worsened and she was diagnosed with ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome).  The deterioration of her lungs got the best of the ventilator, and that too began to fail.  So, in addition to the ventilator, she was placed on a machine called ECMO.  A machine we had never before heard of and one that only 6 adult patients had been placed on in the history of the hospital where she was receiving treatment, it was essentially an artificial lung.  A beast of a machine, it removed her blood from her body, filtered out carbon dioxide, oxygenated it, and sent it back into her body.  The doctors referred to it as a medical “last ditch”effort.

This marked a turning point for my sister.  One that rendered her void of responsiveness…one in which she slowly slipped further and further away.

By her side as much as possible, I talked to her, sang to her, yelled at her, made promises to her, begged for her forgiveness, nursed her, cleaned her, treated her to mani-pedis, and learned everything I possibly could about the machines her life depended on.  Machines that never seemed to yield definite answers and only fueled my 101 questions to which doctors responded with evasive non-answers.

After 3 weeks of depending on not one, but two, forms of life support, brain scans revealed scattered bleeds and damage in her brain caused by the continuous pressure of the very thing keeping her with us.  Respiratory medical advances had kept her alive…defeated death…but the side effects of said advances would produce the same outcome.  Through the weeks of poking, prodding, tests, and unknown pain that we subjected her to, we thought we were saving her.  That we were prolonging her life.  As it turns out, what we were actually doing was prolonging her death…I suspect subconsciously we needed time to come to terms with what was happening.  Time to process the inevitable.  We each needed our own journey of acceptance before we could come together as a family and set her free.  Without meaning to, we were stripping her of her last wishes, her dignity, her right to pass on in peace.  She was facing hurdles impossible to climb.  Her body was worn down.  Her lungs had given up.  Her brain had paid the price.  The time to fight had come and gone.  It was time to give her what she needed most…peace.

Time to turn off the machines, to let her go.

Coming to this conclusion mentally is a vicious internal battle fought by each family member…one that precedes the actual war.  Giving up on hope.  Ending a life.

Heart-wrenching in theory.  Unimaginable in execution.

Being present for the death of someone you love is something one is never prepared for…and something that forever changes a person, I believe.  As a family, being forced into a decision to remove life support from one of its own grossly extends the limits of any manageable emotion, any possibility of soothing, or any realm of rationale.

As her last moments approached, I was by her side, as were my parents and brother.  We were circled around her as she left our family for whatever awaited her.  As a family who rarely (or, in fact, had never) gathered in one place at one time, there we were…sewn together at the hip by family ties, to see her through.  Through her battles with the life support that would eventually take her from us, through her last physical struggles, through her last moments of consciousness, through her last gasps of breath…we held her hand.  Or maybe she was the one holding our hands, easing us into acceptance of what she knew to be her fate.  Inches from her face, I sang to her, pledged my love to her, apologized for regrets I will never be able to undo, cried into her hand, and rubbed her face as the machines were turned off, as she took her last breath, as our tears drenched her lifeless body.  We were allowed more time with her after her passing…to hold her, to clean her, to look at her face one last time…before she was taken out of our lives forever.  Her struggle was over.  But ours was just beginning.

I still wonder what her thoughts were, if any.  What she could feel, if anything.  What she was aware of, if anything.  Did she know we were gathered around her?  Could she feel our love, our regret, our tears?  Hoping, hoping, hoping that she did.  Yet, hoping she felt nothing as she peacefully drifted off to sleep for the last time.  And wrestling with the knowledge that we couldn’t have it both ways.

Watching my baby sister leave this world was…

Truthfully, I don’t know how to end that sentence.  There just aren’t words that do the experience justice.  The love, the pain, the fear, the regret, the loss, the guilt, the realization that a piece of me which was never appreciated enough, never spoken to enough, never loved on enough,  is gone forever ~ no do-overs, no make-ups, no second chances.  Just gone.

Game over.  Nobody wins.

All that’s left is grief.

A monster whose reputation I have only heard horror stories about until recently.  A monster who comes with unthinkable force, obliterates its victims, and leaves quietly, only to plot its next debilitating bodily invasion.  A monster one can only straddle like a bucking horse gone mad, ride out its fury, climb down from, and wait…with one eye open, dreading its return.

A monster I have now gone toe to toe with…

As I mourn the loss of my sister, as I try to cherish her life, as I gather every precious, and previously unappreciated, memory of her I can scrape from the depths of my mind for my emotional consumption…as I struggle to make sense of her very short and difficult life…as I continue to straddle the monster that is grief ~ wild, terrifying, and unpredictable…

I hold on tight and hope the monster tires soon.

And to my sister, I say…You are forever a piece of my heart.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

 

~ Chick Hughes

To my sister, who is fighting for her life

~ My sister lost her fight on August 28, 2012

Sitting at your bedside, sterile and cold

Your blue eyes, beneath lids heavy, hide struggles untold.

Your chest’s slow rise and fall dependent on a machine’s rhythmic sound

Keeping your body with us, though your spirit, by sadness, is bound.

Can you feel me, hear me, your name I’m calling

Willing you back from wherever you’re falling.

I speak for you, to you, while you cannot

Recalling memories of old, two sisters scheme and plot.

Skipping school, dodging every rule, our secrets to keep

Times good and bad, I recite as I weep.

With your every twitch, reflex, and squeeze of my hand

Hope finds me, that you’ll fight your way from this unthinkable quicksand.

But hope is intangible, elusive, a state of mind

Vanishing as obstacles mount to keep you confined.

Gazing at your face, wondering where you are

Do you know what is happening, aware from consciousness afar.

A single tear streams down your cheek

Breaking our hearts, rendering hope bleak.

Are you struggling, hopeful, trying to fight

Or ready to give up, a silent desperate scream that we might.

Your body so tired from fighting this hell

Too tired to continue, I wonder, too sick, too frail.

Soul searching, I do, for me, for you, for reflection

Others turn to God for understanding, for direction.

Whatever the age, for comfort, the human spirit will strive

For an all powerful parental shield from life’s cruel battle to survive.

Past words, harsh actions, I regret

More patience, understanding, if one more chance, we get.

Your pain, your struggles, I would all take away

Sadness no more, only your joy, my hope, one day.

But above all, peace, I desire for you

A safe place for your heart, healing, love anew.

Whatever your thoughts, wherever you may be

I pledge you undying love; eternal sisters, are we.

~Chick Hughes

photo by: omster-com

There’s a popular notion spoon fed to us by barbie media…willingly embraced by the conservative woman, vehemently rejected by the liberal woman, yet, on some level, wrestled with by every woman.  Open wide!  The notion of “happily ever after.”  A studly white knight on a horse who whisks us off to the land of eternal bliss.  Rescues us from…reality?  As “Sex and the City’s” most beloved princess, Charlotte, so shamelessly put it… “Women really just want to be rescued.”  Now chew on that.  According to princess pop culture and every wedding coordinator taxed with the job of creating “happily ever after,” women do indeed want the fairy tale.  A prince charming who will sweep her off her feet, wed her in an over-the-top elaborate princess style shindig her friends will never match, give her to-die-for genetically endowed cooing babies, and take care of her forevermore, forevermore… forNevermore?

This notion proves to be very enticing…that is, until the honeymoon is over, she ages, her prince charming drops the charm, her adorable grown “babies” are mouthing off to her, fighting, and turning her into a screaming referee with a “Your face is gonna get stuck like that!” complex.  Add to this dwindling romance and escalating financial stress.  And suddenly, she doesn’t feel so princess-esque anymore.  In no “happily ever after” does mass media suggest the princess will later be spending her days cooking, cleaning, and refereeing while dragging the tired exhausted shadow of her formerly hot ass around the house in a sloppy pony tail and holey sweats!  As if! Cinderella was rescued from her shabby clothes and household chores.  Hmmm…now that she thinks about it, she’s not feeling so rescued after all.  The media has patronized and misadvised her. What the hell happened to her fairy tale?  Or was the fairy tale just…a tall tale?

From the moment we take our first step or utter our first syllable, we’re slammed with one fantasy of “happily ever after” after another.  The Disney animated princess…Barbie…or better yet…the animated Princess Barbie!  Blurs of blond-haired blue-eyed beauties winning over their prince with one flutter of their exaggerated eyelashes, one toss of their synthetic hair, and not one ambitious bone in their “made in china” bodies.  All hail the media!  As little girls, we aspire to be “pretty in pink” princesses.  Why?  Because we’re encouraged to, of course.  This parent trying to “out-love” that parent by indulging us in over-the-top princess birthday parties.  And our parental crowning doesn’t stop there.  In case the metaphorical crowning wasn’t enough, we’re encouraged to tan up, wig up, and dumb down to walk “beauty” pageant runways straight out of the womb.  All in hopes of being adorned with the awe-inspiring symbol of beauty itself…the over-sized tiara…the bigger, the glitzier, the better.  As we grow into young women, we aspire to find our handsome prince charming, become Mrs. Charming, and live “happily ever after” …replacing the tiara with a diamond ring intended to represent just how “BIG” he loves us.  Finally, as newlyweds, the pressure is on to help populate our tragically underpopulated planet.  One baby, two, nineteen...and counting?  It’s our privilege…our duty, no?

When we do finally get word that the stork is circling overhead, we rejoice over the success of our dutiful whoopee.  Baby on board!  It’s at this moment that our fairy tale is complete.  Or at least the one set in motion by June Cleaver and popularized by the mass media.

Reality calling!

No sleep, dirty diapers, and non-existent sex life aside, there’s a flaw in Cinderella’s perfectly stitched gown of happily ever after.  Ambition!  Today’s woman goes to college, becomes educated, and adds successful career to her dreamy fairy tale checklist.  She dreams of all the things princess pop “cult”ure has washed her brains with.  But princess pop culture has an elephant in the room…and that elephant is college educated and dreams of changing the world…one poopy diaper at a time.  Apparently.  She wants to marry the perfect man, raise the perfect children, and attain the perfect career.  She can have it all, right?  When she first embarks on this feat, she fails to see the practical conflict of her maternal and professional ambitions because she’s young…because she has no concept of “can’t” …and because no one warns her…no one exposes the “fairy tale” for the lying sham it is.

Happily ever after is a myth.

It is an elusive sasquatch creeping into our adolescent psyches touting its over-sized existence, yet failing to produce cold hard proof.  But experience will educate her…reveal the truth.  She CAN marry her prince charming.  She CAN have 2.5 kids.  She CAN have a reputable successful career.  Disclaimer:  The simultaneous combination of the three may cause spontaneous combustion!  And extinguishing the problem will leave the bigfoot supermom drowning in the puddle of despair she fears most…Failure.

The working mom tries to do it all.  Rushes the kids to daycare, drags into work, tries to be all she can be professionally while juggling the disapproving sneer from her boss and phone calls about sick or misbehaving kids, scrambles to pick up the kids on time..and races home to complete homework, baths, dinner, laundry, dishes, bedtime, and sex like a Stepford wife on speed.  A forced smile through it all.  But behind that robotic smile lurks a bottomless pit of guilt, self-doubt, exhaustion, and a persistent sense of failure.  For no matter how much she does… it’s never enough.  So, she pushes herself to the brink of insanity, and then she dares to push a little more.  As she continues to spread herself too thin, she begins to feel her world crumbling around her.  She loses her bearings.  She feels…lost.  But lacks the “me” time to find her way out.

Maintaining a full-time successful career while trying to slay the child-rearing dragon is a feat that will eventually leave her charred and begging for mercy.  Consequently, some modern moms are opting to put a career on hold, stay home, and take on the dragon full time.  Seems the easier option…for now.  But is the dragon’s head the only trophy she seeks?  The reality: a stay home mom may slay the child-rearing dragon with ease…but it’s the demon in her own head that proves to take her down…the struggle between herself and her myth.

The college educated stay-home mom is riddled with unfulfilled professional ambition.  Her own personal fairy tale hell threatens to bring her sanity to its knees.  On one hand, she weighs the commitment to her children…to be available whenever they need her…as a nurturer, a teacher, a playmate, a friend.  On the other, she weighs the desire to work, have an identity, make her own money, be successful, and make a difference in her corner of the world.  All the while, the weight of both relentlessly crushing her.

How does she do both…and do them well?

If she opts for the 9 to 5 career, she sacrifices fleeting time with her kids.  They miss out on parent-child events at school, afternoon soccer, baseball, dance, help with homework.  They become latch-key kids.  They see her for two chore-filled hours a day before they must sleep to prepare for the next day, another in which she will play a minor role.  They act out because they feel last in her list of daily priorities.  Guilt consumes her.  However, if she stays home and forfeits her career, she sacrifices herself.  Disappoints herself on a daily basis.  Begins to drown in her own pity pool of missed opportunities.  Watches the professional life she planned and dreamed of in college slink off into the night robbing her of self-confidence and leaving her a stranger to herself.  Mid-life looms…she wonders… “What now?  Who wants to hire a mom who has been at home for so long…college degree or not.  I have a resume filled with diaper duties and fending off cooties…and Dora the Explorer as a reference.”  Her struggle continues.

Regardless of the choice she makes, her maternal side and her professional side remain in a perpetual tug of war.

Ambition proves to be her double-edged sword.  She struggles daily not to disappoint the supposed “fairy tale” she’s created…and, at the same time, not to disappoint her “me” she’s yet to create.  But at the end of the day, it’s her “me” she’s yet to create that seems to be falling by the wayside.  She wants it all, damn it.  A prince charming.  Happy kids.  Love and success for them all.  But she also wants…HER.  Her career.  Her success.  Her happiness.  She wants to look in the mirror and recognize her once ambitious face.  To be proud not only of her family, but of herself.  To make a difference in the world she’s introducing to her children.  To set a feminist example for her daughter…convince her she can do anything she sets her mind to.  The sky is NOT her limit, for beyond her sky lies an unknown and unexplored universe.  But a paradox presents itself.  As she preaches unbridled ambition for the taking, she does so as a mother who has done the opposite…

telling her daughter to take on the world and let nothing stand in her way, but showing her to sacrifice it all to raise a family.

So she wonders…is she teaching her to be all she can be?  Or is she simply perpetuating the fairy tale hell?

How can she possibly teach her kids to raise their hands and reach for the stars when she’s tied her own hands behind her back?  How can she manage to satisfy the dreams of both herself and her kids?  How can any mother?

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

What DO women want?  DO we want the fairy tale?  Or does the fairy tale want us?

Chick Hughes

“Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace.”  ~ Eugene O’Neill


Mr Basmt

It’s Thanksgiving!  The one day of the year we’re expected to do nothing but eat, drink, and be thankful.  Thankful for the small things…too much food to eat, too many material things that treat, and too few unmet needs to meet.  Thankful for the big things…ever-loving families, always-there friends, and shared-heartfelt memories.  Friends and family are what make our lives interesting…colorful.  Sometimes they color inside our lines of tolerance.  And sometimes not…sometimes they color outside our lines, push our buttons, and drag our grown-up psyches kicking and screaming back to childhood experiences we’ve long since left behind.  Those are the days we’d prefer to keep our lives simple…black and white.  NO COLORING PLEASE!  Like it or not, our families represent the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in each of us.  Holidays approach, and we get together in anticipation of Good food, Good memories, and a Good time.  Our nostalgic memories have betrayed us.  They’ve highlighted the Good memories, altered them a bit, and concealed any hint of Bad from our consciousness.  But it’s there…stalking our innocent nostalgia.  Ready to pounce when we least expect it.  Like they say, we have to  take the Good with the Bad.  Apparently.  Fights ensue over how to prepare the meal, who should sit where, and who was right or wrong about the seating/cooking arrangements for the last family get-together.  Siblings suit up, put on their boxing gloves, and take their corners.  Parents begin serving up guilt as a side dish.  And before you know it, personalities are clashing like trains playing chicken on a one-way track to “All Hell Breaking Loose.”   If one doesn’t play the chicken, the two collide, and the party’s over.  This is it…the defining moment…the test to see just how well we can, or can’t, control our Ugly.

It’s official.  We’re Home For The Holidays.  Welcome to the good, the bad, and OUR Ugly.  🙂

Family can be difficult.  To say the least.  But with all the chaos, all the arguments, all the drama…there’s one factor that can outwit, outlast, and outplay the others.

Love.

No matter how many disagreements, differences of opinion, or nasty comments are swirling around the dinner table…behind each and every one of them is love.  Our families support us when life snatches our legs out from under us.   When life gets too easy, our family acts as a doormat to wipe our feet on.  When life gets too messy, they’re the door we knock on.  And when life gets down right cruel, they’re the shoulder we cry on.  No matter what phase we’re experiencing in life, our family plays a role…whether that role is “extra”, supporting, or they’re in the audience cheering us on.  Our family is front and center.  They’re our one constant in this whirlwind life of unexpected twists and turns.  Our navigation system.

Soon you’ll sit down to give thanks and eat like there’s no tomorrow.  Enjoy!  But don’t let the Bad outweigh the Good and bring out your Ugly.  If personalities get on the fast track to clashing, think before you speak.  That turkey may not be the only thing needing to be stuffed.   On this day of thanks, keep your differing opinion to yourself, take a heaping spoonful of dressing, and…

STUFF IT!

Happy Turkey day!  🙂

Chick Hughes

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. Oprah Winfrey